Adult Friendships: Knowing When One Is Over & How To Break It Off

Your phone buzzes, you glance at the notification — it’s them. Again. You might roll your eyes or bite back a sigh, but still, you reply, “Sounds great! See you then. 😊”

Except it’s not great at all. You don’t actually want to see them, and between now and the planned meet up, you’re scrambling for an excuse to back out. It feels easier to make excuses than to tell them the truth: you don’t want to be friends anymore. But breaking up is hard to do, and that includes breaking up with friends.

Why Do Friendships End?

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that someone has to be ‘toxic’ to justify ending a relationship with them. Relationships aren’t always so easily categorized into binaries like toxic/positive or healthy/unhealthy. Sometimes there are no villains, just people changing as their lives go on.

Before you decide to close the chapter on a friendship, it’s a good idea to organize your thoughts and feelings. Your (soon-to-be-former) friend might be on the same page as you, or they could be thinking things are great and will be totally shocked by what you have to say. Be prepared for either outcome by going over your answers to these three questions:

#1 Why Is The Friendship No Longer Working?

It’s great to have friends that are different from us; they introduce us to new perspectives and social spheres that we might not have discovered on our own. But when those differences become too great, you may feel that there’s not anything for you to bond over. This situation arises often with friends from an earlier stage in life. Sure, you had plenty in common when you were classmates or coworkers, but that connection quickly fades once you move on.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of negative reasons why you may want to end a friendship. Pulling you into gossip, disrespecting your personal boundaries, and demanding more of your time than you’re prepared to give — those are the ones that come to mind from some of my former friendships.

In these cases, it’s important to be clear that ending the friendship isn’t a backhanded way to pressure the other person to be ‘better.’ If they want to change their behavior, that should be their independent decision as a mature adult, not something that they’re pressured to do under the threat of losing a friend.

#2 How Long Have You Been Feeling This Way?

Going over a timeline on your own can help you figure out the root cause of why the friendship is fading. Maybe working overtime has left you empty of emotional energy to support your friend, or perhaps a romantic or familial relationship has to take priority for a bit.

You don’t need to explicitly say, “On March 8th, I realized that our time together felt like a chore when what I really needed was downtime.” However, it is important to communicate to the other person that you have put thought into this; you’re not just making sudden drastic decisions about relationships on a whim.

#3 How Will This Affect Our Mutual Friends?

99% of the time I’ve dragged my feet on ending a friendship, the reason was I don’t want to make the group awkward. It’s especially tricky if your social circle has a gossip problem!  That’s why the best way to talk to someone about ending a friendship is one-on-one.

If you are having trouble understanding each other, a third person that you both trust could help mediate. Sometimes this ends in compromise, like “Because of [x reason] I don’t feel I should be investing time with you individually, but I think our group activities are still a good idea.”

Although you have decided you don’t want to be friends with that person anymore, you don’t get to decide that for everyone else as well. The last thing you want is public callouts and he-said-she-said over what is ultimately only the business of two people.

How To End A Friendship

Now that you’ve done your self-reflection, it’s time for the hard part.

Is a text message the coward’s way out? Would meeting up in person lead to an explosive confrontation? Is it okay to cross your fingers and ignore them, hoping they’ll get the hint on their own?

  • It’s okay to let things fade. This often happens naturally when someone has moved or changed jobs. When it comes to scheduling time with friends, yet another Zoom meeting may not be the quality time that you need. If you’re both struggling to find the time, it’s okay to let them go. However, letting the friendship fade is not a good option if the other person is consistently seeking you out and trying to maintain that relationship.

  • Texting allows you both to feel your emotions without having to explain them in the moment. If you suspect that friend has no idea how you feel, texting can give them time to think before they answer. Meeting them in person to end the friendship puts them on the spot to respond, and they may not be prepared for that at all.

  • Meeting in person is respectful of the friendship you had in the past. Although your lives are going in different directions, talking face-to-face communicates that you have put serious thought into your relationship and that you value the other person’s time.

Taking A Break

A few months ago, I was lucky enough to meet up in person for a few days with a friend that I had not seen (and had barely talked to) in the last four years. But I didn’t feel lucky when I saw her message that she was coming to town — I was actually kind of dreading it, just like in the example at the top of this article. All I was thinking about was “she’s such an extrovert, I’m going to be exhausted, there’s no way I can do this.”

And you know what? I was totally wrong! We fell in together so naturally, despite us each going through some pretty major life changes since we last saw each other. 

Ending friendships is something to be taken seriously, but it’s okay if ‘the end’ sometimes means ‘the end for now.’ Life circumstances may have pulled you apart, and they may push you together again in the future. The only way of finding out is to keep on living and see what happens. 

If ‘the end’ is permanent, that’s okay, too. Trying to fake a friendship that you don’t really want is much more miserable than making a clean break.


Have you had to end an adult friendship recently? What advice can you share? Discuss in the comments below.

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